Monthly Archives: June 2019

Human rights related to North Korean nuclear talks Part 2

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Recent reports from Human Rights Watch and the United Nations confirm that a thriving North Korea exists only in propaganda promoted by President Kim Jong Un. Yet as U.S. and South Korean officials seek to persuade him to halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, they have seldom broached the issue of human rights.

The omission has drawn scrutiny from advocates as much for the proximity and shared history of the countries as for South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s background as a human rights lawyer. Chung-in Moon, a special adviser to President Moon, asserts that pushing human rights to the fore would sink negotiations.  “You can’t raise human rights with North Korea. If you do, they won’t listen after that,” Chung-in Moon says. He views defusing the nuclear threat as a necessary first step. “Once we solve that, then we can address the issue of human rights, and North Korea will be more open to doing its part.”

Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia division for Human Rights Watch, considers the silence from U.S. and South Korean officials on North Korea’s living conditions a form of abandonment. “A nuclear deal might be good for the rest of the world,” he says. “But it won’t change the lives of the North Korean people one bit.”

The Hana Foundation, established by South Korea’s Ministry of Unification in 2010, provides an array of resettlement services to refugees. Mindful of the ministry’s oversight, Gyoung-bin Ko the president of the Hana Foundation, demurs on the subject of whether government officials should press Mr. Kim on human rights. He says simply, “We have a long way to go.”

“Peace will mean the end of sanctions and bring outside investment,” says Spencer Kim, co-founder of the Pacific Century Institute, a nonprofit policy and research firm. “That will be the biggest driver of human rights.”

[Christian Science Monitor]

Two North Korean defectors arrive at South Korean port in fishing boat

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The South Korean Prime Minister apologized to North Korea late last week for a security lapse that allowed a North Korean fishing boat to spend two and a half days in its waters without being noticed.

A 33-foot wooden boat crossed the maritime border with South Korea last week with four North Korean men on board, and docked at Samcheok, a port 80 miles south of the border. One of the four North Koreans then came ashore, telling a South Korean villager that he came from the North and asking to borrow a cellphone so he could call an aunt who had earlier defected to the South.

During an initial interrogation by the South Korean authorities, two of the four North Koreans said they wanted to defect to the South. The other two were returned to the North on Tuesday over the land border.

The government’s apology came on the same day that President Xi Jinping of China arrived in North Korea for a state visit with Kim Jong-un.

South Koreans remain deeply worried about any breach of the border. Nearly two million troops on both sides of the border are on constant alert against possible intruders.

[New York Times]

North Korea’s trade relationship with China as “lips and teeth”

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Seoul’s Industrial Bank of Korea’s North Korean Economy Research Center said Tuesday trade between North Korea and its most important trading partner China increased year-on-year over the past three months, ending in May. The South Korean research report used trade statistics from the Chinese government, then parsed the gathered data.

North Korea’s import of goods from China has reached its highest level since November 2017, South Korean researchers said. North Korea imported more from China than it exported, causing a deficit. Exports in May were up 25.2 percent year-on-year, and imports were also up, by 18.9 percent, from same time last year.

International sanctions against Pyongyang for nuclear weapons development had significantly lowered bilateral trade, but rising economic activity indicates China has become more willing to “influence North Korea” in a period of improved ties, the analysts added.

North Korea is also turning toward a greater dependency on China, according to the research.

North Korea’s relationship to China has been historically described as “lips and teeth,” a blood alliance forged during the 1950-53 Korean War.

[UPI]

Kim Jong Un received ‘personal letter’ from Trump, says North Korean state media

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un received a “personal letter” from US President Donald Trump, according to North Korean state news agency KCNA, which reported that Kim “said with satisfaction that the letter is of excellent content,” after reading it.

“Kim Jong Un said that he would seriously contemplate the serious content” and appreciated the “extraordinary courage of President Trump,” KCNA added.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed a letter was exchanged, saying, “A letter was sent by President Trump and correspondence between the two leaders has been ongoing.”

Earlier this month, Trump told reporters about a “beautiful letter” he received from Kim, the first since the February summit in Hanoi that saw both leaders leave empty-handed. “I appreciated the letter,” Trump said at the time. He did not reveal the contents of the letter.

An administration official described the letter as a “birthday greeting.” Trump’s birthday was that week and the official says Kim wished the President good health.

[CNN]

Kim Jong Un and Xi Jinping agree to grow ties whatever the external situation

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and China’s President Xi Jinping reached a consensus on “important issues,” and agreed to build on their countries’ friendly relations “whatever the international situation,” North Korean state media reported.

Xi left the North Korean capital Pyongyang on Friday after a two-day visit, the first by a Chinese leader in 14 years. China is North Korea’s only major ally and Xi’s visit was aimed at bolstering the isolated country against pressure from United Nations sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes and stalled denuclearization talks with the United States.

The visit comes a week before Xi and U.S. President Donald Trump are due to meet at a Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, amid a trade dispute that has rattled global financial markets.

North Korea’s state-run news agency KCNA reported that during a luncheon on the final day of Xi’s visit the leaders discussed plans to strengthen collaboration, as well as their countries’ “major internal and external policies”, while exchanging views on domestic and international issues of mutual concern.

An editorial in the official China Daily on Saturday warned that Xi’s short visit to Pyongyang would not solve all the region’s problems, but pledges to help develop the North Korean economy the right way forward.

[Reuters]

No word on North Korean defectors apprehended in China

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Kim Jeong-cheol already lost a brother who tried to escape from North Korea, and now fears his sister will meet a similar fate after she was caught by Chinese authorities.

“My elder brother was caught in 2005, and he went to a political prison and was executed in North Korea,” Kim told Reuters. “That’s why my sister will surely die if she goes back there. What sin is it for a man to leave because he’s hungry and about to die?”

Reuters was unable to verify the fate of Kim’s brother or sister. Calls to the North Korean embassy in Beijing were not answered.

When another woman – who asked to be unnamed for her family’s safety – escaped from North Korea eight years ago, she promised her sister and mother she would work to bring them out later. Her 27-year-old sister was in a group of four defectors who made it all the way to Nanning, near the border with Vietnam, before being caught.

In January, their mother died of cancer. On her death bed, the mother wrote a message on her palm pleading for her remaining daughter to escape North Korea.

“It will haunt me for the rest of my life that I didn’t keep my promise,” said the woman, who now lives in South Korea.

Activist groups and lawyers seeking to help the families say there is no sign China has deported the recently arrested North Koreans yet, and their status is unknown.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry, which does not typically acknowledge arrests of individual North Korean escapees, said it had no information about the raids or status of detainees. “We do not know about the situation to which you are referring,” the ministry said in a statement when asked by Reuters. North Koreans who enter China illegally because of economic reasons are not refugees, it added.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on North Korea human rights,  Tomas Ojea Quintana, said Monday he has discussed the issue of detained North Korean defectors in China with South Korean officials.

[Reuters]

Chinese raids on North Korean defector safe houses

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A decade after leaving her family behind to flee North Korea, the defector was overwhelmed with excitement when she spoke to her 22-year-old son on the phone for the first time in May after he too escaped into China.

While speaking to him again on the phone days later, however, she listened in horror as the safe house where her son and four other North Korean escapees were hiding was raided by Chinese authorities. “I heard voices, someone saying ‘shut up’ in Chinese,” said the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect her son’s safety. “Then the line was cut off, and I heard later he was caught.”

The woman, now living in South Korea, said she heard rumors her son is being held in a Chinese prison near the North Korean border, but has had no official news of his whereabouts.

“Raiding a house? I’ve only seen two or three times,” said Y. H. Kim, chairman of the North Korea Refugees Human Rights Association of Korea, who left North Korea in 1988 and has acted as a middleman for the past 15 years, connecting donors with brokers who help defectors. “You get caught on the way, you get caught moving. But getting caught at a home, you can count on one hand.”

At least 30 North Korean escapees have been rounded up in a string of raids across China since mid-April, according to family members and activist groups.

The increase in arrests is likely driven by multiple factors, including deteriorating economic conditions in North Korea and China’s concern about the potential for a big influx of refugees, said Kim Seung-eun, a pastor at Seoul’s Caleb Mission Church, which helps defectors escape.

[Reuters]

Chinese President Xi Jinping to make first official visit to North Korea

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Chinese President Xi Jinping will arrive in North Korea on Thursday for a two-day state visit, his first official trip to the country since he came to power in 2012. Xi is making the trip “at the invitation” of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Xinhua reported Monday.

Relations between the two countries had been in a deep chill under the North Korean leader until recently, but an unexpected visit by Kim to China in March 2018 signaled the beginning of a new era of Beijing-Pyongyang relations.

In the preceding years, Kim had purged several key officials with close ties to Beijing, including his uncle Jang Song Thaek. He had also angered China through his provocative missile and nuclear testing, which went against Beijing’s goal of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

However since that visit early last year, Xi and Kim have met four times, with China even lending the young North Korean leader a plane to attend a June 2018 summit with Trump in Singapore.

This week’s state visit will make Xi the first Chinese leader to visit North Korea since his predecessor, Hu Jintao visited in 2005. China is North Korea’s number one trading and economic partner, and Pyongyang’s only major military ally.

 [CNN]

Chinese raids hit North Korean defectors Underground Railroad

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At least 30 North Korean escapees have been rounded up in a string of raids across China since mid-April, according to family members and activist groups. It is not clear whether this is part of a larger crackdown by China, but activists say the raids have disrupted parts of the informal network of brokers, charities, and middlemen who have been dubbed the North Korean “Underground Railroad”.

“The crackdown is severe,” said Y. H. Kim, chairman of the North Korea Refugees Human Rights Association of Korea.

Most worrisome for activists is that the arrests largely occurred away from the North Korean border – an area dubbed the “red zone” where most escapees get caught – and included rare raids on at least two safe houses.

An activist at another organization that helps spirit defectors out of North Korea said so far its network had not been affected, but they were concerned about networks being targeted and safe houses being raided.

“That is a bit of a different level, more targeted and acting on intelligence that they may have been sitting on to smash up networks,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect the organization’s work.

Y. H. Kim, of the Refugees Human Rights Association, said the raids raised concerns that Chinese authorities had infiltrated some smuggling networks, possibly with the aid of North Korean intelligence agents.

“I don’t know about other organizations, but no one is moving in our organization right now,” he said. “Because everyone who moves is caught.”

[Reuters]

‘The Great Successor’ Kim Jong Un

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There are few world leaders past or present we know less about than North Korea’s reclusive, nuclear-armed bad boy, Kim Jong Un. Kim’s very existence was only officially acknowledged a few years before the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in December 2011 after the elder Kim launched an 11th-hour scramble to ensure dynastic succession. At the time, no one was even sure of the new leader’s exact age, let alone his agenda.

So, The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un by The Washington Post‘s Anna Fifield — who has spent considerable time in North Korea both before and after the princeling Kim’s ascent — is a welcome addition to the political literature.

What emerges is a portrait of Kim fully in charge and consciously channeling his grandfather, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, to bolster his legitimacy. Contrary to prevailing stereotypes, in this story Kim is anything but a madman. Cold-blooded for sure, but playing a calculated defensive strategy aimed at standing up his rule.

By Fifield’s account, Kim is willing to loosen his grip just enough to placate the impoverished masses and the regime’s wealthy oligarchs. At the same time, he has proved more ruthless than his father — dispatching potential rivals, such as his uncle and top regime adviser Jang Song Thaek, who was executed in 2013, and his half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, who was ambushed with a deadly nerve agent at a Kuala Lumpur airport three years later. The book also asserts unequivocally that Kim Jong Nam was a CIA informant, which had only been rumored previously.

Fifield offers us intriguing tidbits from Kim’s childhood — we get a picture of isolation in Kim’s formative years, with few playmates and an overwhelming, if not surprising, sense of entitlement.

Following his father’s death, the new leader understood that his youth and inexperience, particularly in a culture that values age and wisdom, meant that he needed to move quickly to consolidate power, Fifield notes. The nuclear and missile programs started by his grandfather and nurtured by his father were kicked into overdrive. And once North Korea’s ability to deliver these weapons to the shores of the hated United States proved sufficiently convincing, Kim was ready to pivot — “time for the cruel, threatening, nuclear-armed tyrant to begin his metamorphosis into misunderstood, gracious, developmental dictator,” writes Fifield.

Kim’s “charm offensive” that closely followed an alarming escalation of war rhetoric and personal insults traded by the regime and the serial tweeting President Trump was part of this attempt. With the goal of trying to understand the U.S. president, “North Korean officials began asking former American officials to decipher Trump’s tweets for them,” Fifield writes. “They read The Art of the Deal … They asked about the United States’ nuclear attack protocol. They asked if Trump really had the sole authority to push the nuclear button.”

By the time of the Singapore summit between Kim and Trump in June 2018, the North Koreans appear to have cracked the U.S. president’s code — that flattery would get them everywhere. At the conclusion of the meeting, however, it was Trump who was publicly praising the North Korean leader, calling him “very smart,” and a “very good negotiator” and admiring Kim’s iron-fisted rule of the North, that he was “able to run it, and run it tough.” What more could a shy young dictator want?

Kim understands that getting sanctions lifted, or at least eased, may be key to his long-term survival, Fifield writes. It’s not that rank-and-file North Koreans have the capacity to revolt, but that the country’s 0.01 percent, the technocrats who know the situation inside and outside of the country, need to be kept happy.

[NPR]